Recess Peak

20-21 Sep 2003 - by Pat Callery

Recess Peak is a fairly remote mountain that stands prominently above its nearby surroundings, with aesthetic ridges extending in 4 ordinal directions, and steep, towering faces on three cardinal sides. It was the intent to follow the southwest ridge over 2000 vertical feet and 2 rambling horizontal miles that brought a team of 9 rugged PCS mountaineers together over the weekend of September 20-21, 2003.

To approach this peak from the west, one may find it necessary to drive the Kaiser Pass road. We considered ourselves fortunate to be on this road as the boating season was winding down; no Winnebagos with 20-foot trailers were reported as our team of 4 automobiles braved the hideous exposure on this single-lane mountain ride from Huntington Lake to Mono Hot Springs. Those with curious culinary persuasions may consider the restaurant at Mono Hot Springs Resort, which is open until 8pm during the summer season and offers a semi-diverse array of fine dishes featuring buffalo (and the ever intriguing "substitute buffalo"). The outdoor seating provides pleasant ambiance, the food is OK, and the restaurant boasts one of the most extensive salad bars east of Kaiser Pass.

Our group of 9 mountaineers (Bob Bynum, Chris Kerr, John Kerr, Dot Reilly, Eric Sovish, Tony Stegman, Eddie Sudol, co-leader Arun Mahajan, and yours truly, leader & scribe Patrick Callery) met early Saturday morning at the turn-off 4WD road to Bear Creek Diversion Dam from the Lake Thomas Edison road. There is plenty of parking at this turn-off for those choosing not to drive the 4WD. The road is fairly manageable and we made good time in our gas-guzzling SUVs, while a pair of sprightly Subarus were left at the turn-off. There were some places where we were glad to have high-clearance, but the road was generally in good shape. The road ends at an area of broad slabs near the trailhead.

We departed down the trail shortly after 9am under blue skies and warm temperature. The hike in along Bear Creek was beautiful, as advertised, our main regret being that the trail leaves the creek after only ~3 miles to climb the slopes above. We followed the trail until just past its high point, then departed the trail around the backside of dome 9266' and headed due north cross country over slabs and minor brush. Our route joined the PCT about 9600', where we followed the switchbacks up to ~9800'. There are several small springs crossing the PCT here, providing a very welcome clean water source. We hiked cross-country again, this time due east, through open forest, meadow, and small boulder fields, finally climbing steep slabs to the outlet of the small lake due west of Recess Peak, at ~10,700'. The lake is shallow and muddy, not the best for swimming. We found a broad, sandy campsite adjacent to the pleasant outlet stream beneath the impressive west face of the peak, and were treated to a marvelous sunset over dinner.

At 5am Sunday members of our crew started to rouse and pack up for the summit hike. We started in two groups, the first leaving just before 6am and the second just after 6:30am. The route climbs straight south from our campsite up scree to join the foot of the long ridge at ~10,900'. From here we traced the ridgeline up and over knob 11,706' towards the peak. Descending from the knob to the saddle and onto the SW ridge proper, one may encounter some interesting expsoure while climbing over very solid steep flakes and boulders. Once onto the summit ridge, the route broadens and climbers may stay close to the steep west face or venture slightly inland, encountering more flakes and a bit of fresh air underfoot near the former, with more boulders & sand in the latter. The last of our team touched the summit around 9:30am.

The summit consists of a flat, bouldered ridge about 300' long where the four mountain ridges converge. At the west end of the summit, our route meets the spectacularly featured NW ridge with knife edges and huge towers, where the east end of the summit forms the junction of the broad SE ridge and appealingly steep NE ridge. There are many opportunities for exploring other routes on this peak, all of them seem at least moderately interesting. Likewise, the grand west face appears to sport steep, clean granite with several corners & buttresses.

Given the long hike out ahead of us, we reluctantly headed down around 10am. Downclimbing the ridge was somewhat tedious, with no easy scree slopes to hustle down. We finally arrived back in camp about 12:30pm, packing up and leaving camp shortly after 1pm. We opted to try a shortcut on the way out, and followed the drainage leading southwest. Some fairly steep sections with loose rocks and thick brush were expertly negotiated by our team of skilled hikers, with minimal disgruntlement. We followed skier's right of the drainage all the way, with the terrain opening up a little just before crossing the PCT. We continued off-trail past the PCT through more brush until we joined the Bear Creek trail just slightly downhill of where we had left it the day before. As far as bushwhacks go (and I am a connoisseur of fine bushwhacking), I would rate this one moderately pleasant.

The rest of the hike out was typically tedious, but made infinitely more pleasurable given the intoxicating surroundings. Two of us raced ahead downhill to reconnoiter with the refreshing Bear Creek again, and stumbled into a scene out of some tropical paradise. Just where the trail returns to the floor of the creek canyon, a beautiful, broad swimming hole appears, with cascading rapids alongside laminar sheets of cool water flowing down smooth granite slabs into the pool. Somehow we walked right past this on the way up, doubtless after having tripped over many rocks while gawking at the various other falls and pools over the rest of the trail. After lingering here a while, eventually we all plodded out to the cars a little after 6pm. After the SUV shuttle back out to the road, we said farewell and parted our separate ways, mostly content with another fine weekend in the mountains.


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